By Pastor Nico Romeijn-Stout | Photos by Ken Fankhauser
In the past year, I’ve attended so many marches, rallies, protests, vigils, and other public actions that I eventually stopped buying poster paper and just started showing up with a white board. For a while last spring, it lived in the back of my car, along with a stash of markers and an eraser.
This has been a year where local, national, and world events have seemed to be in a constant state of upheaval. When anyone who doesn’t fit into my particularly privileged niche of society (white, straight, educated, employed, male…) has at times felt their basic protections under the law, and value in the eyes of society, erode away.
Whether marching for women or science, rallying in support of affordable, comprehensive health care or equal rights for LGBTQ+ persons, my presence and participation is shaped foremost by my identity as a Christian. Occasionally this leads to some interesting exchanges with people from Christian and non-Christian backgrounds, almost always underpinned by some form of the same question: but isn’t this a political issue?
Yes, it is political, also.
This idea has become my standard starting point in replying. Health care, creation care and climate justice, equal rights for all people, anti-discrimination efforts, protesting racism, #MeToo… yes, these and many other issues are also political issues.
For me as Christian, however, they are first and foremost a matter of faith.
Back in 2005, Jim Wallis published his book “God’s Politics”. One of the points he makes near the beginning of this book is that “God is personal, but never private” (p. 31). If we who follow Christ do not have a personal relationship with God, then what is the point? Our faith becomes a set of philosophies of long-dead teachers. If God is not personal, then where is the desire from us and from God for relationship? At the same time, faith is never simply a private matter, because “private faith becomes a merely cultural religion providing the assurance of righteousness for people just like us” (pp. 34-35).
By reminding myself, and sometimes others as well, that the pressing moral issues of our time are also political because they are first imperatives of the Christian faith, I am hoping to remind myself (as much as anyone else) that faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel he reveals is to be my leading edge in the public sphere; it is to be my fundamental “why.”
As much as both major political parties like to claim that God is on their side in every race and on every ballot issue, we must remember that God is nonpartisan. Rather than even asking if God is on our side, we witness to our faith when we instead ask if we are on God’s side.
If our personal faith is not calling us to action alongside refugees, war victims, and hurricane survivors; alongside those who can barely afford housing, let alone health care; alongside the yet unborn generations who will inherit the earth we leave behind; if our personal faith is not calling us to publicly walk with, empower, and advocate for these whom Christ has told us will inherit Kingdom of God, then quite frankly, what are we doing?
Yes, this means we must also be political.
Nico Romeijn-Stout serves as pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John UMC in the Alaska Conference.